GLENDALE, Ariz. — Notre Dame fell behind early and never could catch up with powerful Ohio State.
The result was yet another major bowl defeat for the Irish, 44-28 to the Buckeyes in the Fiesta Bowl on Friday.
Ohio State (12-1) scored touchdowns the first two times they had the ball.
The game started at 11 a.m., local time, and the Irish were slow to wake up. They were scoreless in the first quarter for the first time all season.
“Obviously their first series was outstanding. They ran the ball effectively right down the field,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly. “So I just think that they executed very well early on. It was the difference in the game really, those 14 points early. We had to play catch-up from there.”
The score reached 28-7 but No. 8 Notre Dame (10-3) climbed back into it with a touchdown late in the first half and another in the third quarter, a 4-yard scoring pass from DeShone Kizer to Chris Brown to cut seventh-ranked Ohio State’s lead to 28-21 with 8:58 still to go.
Ezekiel Elliott ended that threat by running up the middle on a 47-yard touchdown run, one of his four TDs for the day, and the Irish never got it to single digits again.
Notre Dame, for all its national football notoriety, has gone 22 years without a major bowl victory. The Irish are 0-7 in those big games since beating Texas A&M in the 1993 Cotton Bowl.
Notre Dame gave up 82 points in its two losses this season — to Stanford and Ohio State. The 44 allowed Friday were the most they gave up all season.
Kelly, though, said his team in headed in the right direction.
“I like where we are,” he said. “We’re going to keep banging at the door. Keep playing Ohio State, keep playing Florida State, keep playing Alabama, keep playing these teams in these kinds of venues, in these kinds of games.”
The Irish were depleted, especially on defense.
Linebacker Jaylon Smith, arguably Notre Dame’s best defensive player and a potential top-10 draft pick, went down early with a knee injury when he was shoved to the ground by an Ohio State player. Smith was on crutches on the sideline at game’s end with what Kelly called “a significant knee injury.”
“The guy is so impactful on our defense,” Kelly said. “You lose a guy like that early on, it significantly affects what you’re doing defensively.”
Smith’s backup Te’von Coney also was knocked out of the game, with a shoulder injury.
Defensive lineman Sheldon Day was not at full strength but made it through his final college game. Day hurt his foot in practice this week but X-rays were negative.
“Then (he) got deathly ill last night,” Kelly said. “We had to have him on medicine and IVs to make it through the game. That’s the kind of captain he is. He’s unbelievable. He gave us everything he had today. He was on IVs all morning.”
Elliott, who has announced he is leaving for the NFL, tied a Fiesta Bowl record with his four scores, three of them on short runs.
J.T. Barrett gave the Buckeyes some balance, throwing for 211 yards and a score with 96 yards rushing in the highest-scoring game against Notre Dame’s defense this season.
Ohio State’s seniors finished 50-4, tying the FBS record set by Boise State’s 2011 class for most wins in a four-year span.
“It’s been a wild journey with this team, something I couldn’t even imagine,” Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple said.
The Fighting Irish had some good offensive moments behind Kizer after Buckeyes star defensive end Joey Bosa was ejected for targeting in the first quarter.
Kizer reflected on the season.
“It’s been awesome,” he said. “I learned quite a bit.”
Kizer’s biggest play came when he threw to the sidelines to Will Fuller, who evaded a would-be tackler and raced down the sideline on an 81-yard play, the second-longest pass play in Fiesta Bowl history.
But it came too late.
Kelly didn’t think his team got pushed around, though.
“We certainly needed to execute better,” Kelly said, “but (I) didn’t feel like we were outmanned. We were short-handed today but we weren’t outmanned.”